There’s been a video circulating the Web lately featuring a bunch of young Italian boys and their reactions to being told to slap a random girl that they just met. For different reasons, all of the boys emphatically refuse to hit her. Most people see this as a good thing, and it is, but there are a few concerns that I have on the video and most are based in the video’s logic of violence and how highly people esteem this video in the thoughts that it greatly subverts the gender dynamic. Most people see this video as a rejection as violence, but as always, as a viral video, it’s not very nuanced. Hopefully this post will help you, my faithful reader, in thinking more critically about gender, violence, and viral videos.
After asking the boys their names, their ages, and their dreams, the boys are introduced to a young stranger and are told her name. They are asked what their favorite feature of hers is, to caress her face, and finally, to slap her. The boys won’t slap her, but all state their favorite features and all caress her. The fact that they don’t hit the girl is fantastic and should be held in good regard (their parents taught them well, obviously). But the Gender Studies student in me feels that I need to point some problems out. Do not read this post as a condemnation of the video: just like the cat-calling video, it brought a lot of good but it also raises up a lot of problems. This video is good and it brings up a lot of good points, but I still want to point out some flaws.
Violence must be rejected and condemned by Christians at any level. Only two of the boys reject violence as violence, the other boys reject gendered violence. That means that they only reject violence when it is done based on gender, ultimately not condemning any violent act but rather condemning contextual violence.
There are a few problems with this:
First: Rejecting violence against women is not a condemnation of violence; gender shouldn’t be the final deciding factor in deciding whether or not to commit an act of violence against someone else. Does it help seeing it written out that way? When we make a decision about committing violence based on gender, we are not condemning violence as a whole, but moving the object of our violence from a woman to a man or an animal, but we don’t cut out the root violence.
Violence against women is an act borne of entitlement: when men don’t get what they want from a woman, they see it as an affront on their masculinity. Michael Kimmel explains this in Guyland: “The time-honored way for a guy to prove that he is a real man is to score with a woman. It indicates both his desirability and his virility, and proves that he’s succeeding in the often complicated task of attaining manhood.” (p. 169) Men are taught from a young age that they deserve things from women, and if a woman forbids men from attaining what they are taught they are owed, they could see violence as a suitable reaction. Telling boys to not hit girls because they are women rather than telling them to not hit anybody reinforces this power dynamic. It does so by unintentionally teaching the boys that girls are weaker and more frail, rather than the fact that women, as human beings, deserve a life free from violence.
Second, boys need to be taught that any violence against anybody is wrong. Boys’ feelings are constantly negated in a society that teaches that men are rational and girls are emotional. When young boys feel pain and they want to cry, coaches, teachers, and parents tell them that “boys don’t cry” and to hold in their feelings. Rejecting violence means teaching boys that their feelings matter and the pain they feel when violence has been committed against them is wrong and they are allowed to mourn it. How else could the male prophets decry and mourn the violence done against them and against the women, orphans, and poor in their societies?
Notice how the boys did not say no when asked to caress her or describe their favorite features and the boy at the end doesn’t say that he won’t kiss the girl, but only asks how he is allowed to kiss her. As early as a rejection of violence is taught, enthusiastic consent must be taught.
Ultimately, even though they rejected violence, the boys don’t end up subverting the traditional gender dynamic. They reject a portion of it (the physical violence), yet rapidly and gladly affirm the rest of the dynamic that men have power over women and feel a sense of entitlement to this power. They affirm that men still have the power to not ask consent for physical contact. Maybe because an adult told them it was okay? Maybe because she didn’t say no? She had to have consented to the caress, kiss, and slap before the video, otherwise she wouldn’t be in it, right? Ultimately, we don’t know. But this confusion and lack of clarity points to the need for consent. Part of ending violence is creating a culture of enthusiastic consent. Violence can be any unwarranted physical touch: creating a culture where men want consent will do wonders in ending our violent culture.
Women don’t owe men anything, men don’t own anything about women, and adults don’t override or provide consent for somebody else. Rejecting gendered violence is good; rejecting violence is better; rejecting to hit a girl is good; asking for consent for any physical touch at all is better.
Only a Spirit-filled, Christ-centered to the glory of the Father level rejection of violence will undo the brokenness of this world. To reject violence against women is a good thing, but it does not go far enough. We must reject violence in the same way that the Lord did when he was unjustly murdered. The resurrection of Jesus brings us new life that helps us reject violence and the cruciform Spirit will mold us into the image of our non-violent Savior.
(Photo courtesy of http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2897207/Why-not-m-man-Tearjerker-video-shows-touching-reactions-boys-asked-slap-girl-street.html)